In Catalonia, the fringe is setting the agenda
The moderate nationalists who govern the northern region are being heavily influenced by pressure from pro-independence radicals who represent only a small section of the populace.
The last Catalan elections saw a shift both to the centre-right and to moderate nationalism, both embodied by Artur Mas’s Convergència i Unió (CiU). Although Mas didn’t win an absolute majority, as president of Catalonia he has been able to implement austerity measures, revise the existing legal corpus and get moving on his favourite issue of a new fiscal pact with Spain; all well within his mandate, the statutes of his parties and the legal framework.
However, there is another, key matter Mas might have lost control over, handing it to the radical fringe: Catalan identity and whether or not Catalonia will continue to be part of Spain. Mas has certainly sought to continue the nation-building his political godfather Jordi Pujol started in the 1980s and 90s. He has also made some thinly veiled threats in the direction of Madrid that his demands for a new fiscal pact better be met, or else. And he has also done some courting of his own party’s pro-independence youth movement.
Some expect that one day Mas will appear on the balcony of the Generalitat, Catalonia’s governing institution, to ape Lluís Companys, who in 1934 declared independence, thus defying a right-wing government in Madrid. Mas, too, could look south to a conservative administration in the capital after November’s general elections.
But even if Mas does ultimately go down this road, his control of the situation is undermined by the radical pro-independence fringe. Although they suffer from infighting, they are ideologically well-equipped and have shown an ability to coalesce around a common objective. Their main cause goes beyond the simple independence of Catalonia.
This fringe, which represents less than 20 percent of Catalans, ranges from nostalgics of the armed struggle predicated by Daniel Cardona in the 1920s to the ERC, encompassing SI and a range of other parties as well as civic organisations such as Sobirania i Progrés. Not only do they share the ambition of Catalan independence, but their statutes and manifestos also define Catalonia as all the territories historically inhabited by Catalan speakers, such as Valencia, the Balearic Islands and French Roussillon: a sort of “Greater Catalonia”, the so-called Catalan Lands.
An academic argument
It is this pan-Catalanism, rather than their small numbers, that today keeps them on the fringes of Catalan society. But a very powerful fringe it is. The force of the simplicity of ethnocentrist arguments should not be underestimated and this fringe could, at the right time, attract millions. The backing of certain academics, such as Ferran Requejo and Antoni Abat, boosts the movement’s appeal, especially when politicians have lost so much credibility. These academics’ arguments may be pure populism, but they have cachet to burn. It’s Plato perverted.
Mas’s weak position on this issue is plain to see. He might be leading Catalonia legally and institutionally, but in the present debate over independence he has been a mere follower, rushing to whatever position the pro-independence advocates have set up for him.
It was these organisations that conducted the series of unofficial, unbinding referendums on Catalan independence between 2009 and 2011, and in which Mas voted “yes”. It was also these organisations that held a poorly attended demonstration in favour of independence on July 9, and to whom Mas sent the message that, according to a poll cooked up by his very own Generalitat, 42.9 percent of Catalans want independence.
Mas’s mistaken strategy
Whether or not Mas will one day become the new Companys, or a more successful reincarnation of him, is not clear. But at the moment, it is the radical fringe that is setting the Catalan agenda. Mas might think that flirting with its ideas can help him to stay on top of the game. He might want to reconsider: the Catalan Socialists did something similar by buying into significant parts of Catalan nationalist ideology. They ultimately lost half of their electorate and had to give way to the real McCoys.
To really lead you need to present ideas of your own. Mas might be a valid administrator but, unlike Pujol, he has never been seen as either inspired or inspiring. When under pressure, Mas can go into attack dog mode, instead of holding his position with the self-assurance of someone who knows which way to go.
Likewise, when confronted with a political current that might cost him the leading role he treasures, Mas is not averse to shifting towards the perceived popular ground.
It is the radical fringe’s academics and politicians who have the ideas that dominate the airwaves and the op-eds. Under pressure from them, Mas’s options are being reduced. Soon the question will not be about whether he can offer an alternative to this fringe, but rather whether he is leading them or being led by them.
Two things are already clear. The first is: Mas has no mandate for either of the latter. The second is that any fringe needs an extraordinary situation to grow. Mas might be on the way to providing the Catalan nationalist fringe with such a situation, one way or the other.
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Published: Aug 15 2011
Category: Featured, Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
Short URL: http://iberosphere.com/?p=3450
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Tags: Artur Mas, catalan independence, catalan nationalism, catalonia independence, elections, ERC, SI, spain, Spain elections, spain news, spanish politics